The PDC World Darts Championship is here, so who better to speak to than Sky Sports presenter Dave Clark! Luke Nicoli listened in…
The PDC World Darts Championship is synonymous with Christmas and now a staple diet on the sporting calendar.
While the fancy-dress, football-style anthems and messages on 180 cards might not sit comfortably with all darting aficionados, there is no escaping the festive fayre served up at Ally Pally.
What we can all agree on, however, is the superlative coverage Sky Sports offer throughout the near-three weeks of competition and, indeed, the stoic professionalism and warmth afforded to us by the Sky Sports Darts channel’s anchor, Dave Clark.
Now in his 19th year presenting the ‘worlds’, Dave’s expertise and engaging presenting style are every bit as important to the tournament’s success as the glitz and glamour of Sky’s slick coverage, the ever-increasing competition among the leading contenders and the big-money offering played out in front of him.
Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011, and told he might have just two or three years left in front of the cameras, Clark is a truly inspirational figure, and remains as enthused as ever when discussing what should be a fascinating 22 days of world-class action.
“It barely seems like a year since last year’s World Championship ended,” he told www.harrowsdarts.com. “It’s something I always look forward to; a cross between the Munich Beer Festival and the best fancy dress party you’ve ever been to!
“It’s 28 sessions, 3,000 people per session, with a million pints of beer drunk – it’s crazy! Along with the great coverage provided by Sky, it always looks like the party you want to be at.”
For the players, however, the hype has to be cast to one side as they focus on what is the pinnacle of the season; the chance to be crowned PDC World Darts Champion and a staggering purse of £500,000 for the winner. The tournament has certainly come a long way in a relatively short space of time and while fans of a certain vintage will conjure up images of Eric Bristow, Keith Deller and the Jollees Cabaret Club in Stoke, Clark is in no doubt who the trailblazer has been for the current generation.
“Phil Taylor set the standard for the others to follow,” he states. “The sport needed a superstar again and he was that man. He won 16 world championships which is ridiculous and he transcended darts. He set the bar and was key to the sport’s revival.
“Along with the great coverage from Sky we are now privileged to have a number of great characters, some brilliant entertainers. The sport’s all about personality and rivalry – and we’ve now got that in bucketloads. Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright… each player’s got his own personality now, as we see with the walk-ons.”
If any player looks like coming anywhere close to Taylor’s imperious record, then Dutchman van Gerwen looks best placed from the current PDC set. Winning three of his four finals since 2014, Clark feels his tag of bookies’ favourite going into this tournament is justified.
“Michael’s been in excellent form this year,” he adds. “His successes across the tour, including on Sky in the Premier League and World Grand Prix, saw him continue his remarkable haul of trophies, and he remains the standard-bearer for the sport going into this event.
“He’s actually won seven of the televised titles, so thrives on the pressure – and you need to be a certain character to cope with the large and boisterous crowd at Ally Pally. Some players have been known to wear ear plugs – Mervyn Day and Raymond van Barneveld for example – but Michael is a cool customer.
“Where there is common ground among all the players, however, is the hours and hours of monotonous practice, and you have to be a special person to come through and make it in a sport like darts. For every aspiring player, the World Darts Championship is what they all want to play in and the Sid Waddell Trophy is what they dream of lifting.
“Only one player can do that on New Year’s Day – and I can’t wait to congratulate the worthy winner!”
So the bookies are tipping MVG to go all the way, but who else is in with a strong shout? Dave gave us his other ones to watch…
“I’ll be keeping a keen eye on [Harrows-sponsored] Dave, who’s been playing some of his best-ever darts this year and was superb as he won through to the World Grand Prix final. Doubles have let him down in the past, but he was great in Dublin and if he can keep it together at Ally Pally this could well be his year – and it would be great to see him finally win a big TV title.”
“What a year it’s been for Nathan! He reached the semi-finals at Ally Pally 12 months ago and has since won the UK Open, and took out 170 to seal that victory! He’s a great talent and one of the new breed of players now breaking into the elite of darts.”
“Luke made a massive impression 12 months ago and knocked out Rob Cross to reach the quarter-finals. He’s gone on to play as a Contender in the Premier League and then won the World Youth Championship title. He wants to make his mark on the big stage and this could be his time.”
* This is the first of a two-part piece with Dave. In our next blog we’ll be speaking to him about living with Parkinson’s disease and his latest charity challenge.
*The William Hill World Darts Championship will be shown on the Sky Sports Darts channel from December 13-January 1
* Follow Dave Clark on Twitter @DaveClarkTV
Photo Credits: Lawrence Lustig/PDC